Monday, June 29, 2015

The Jane Austen Handbook by Margaret C. Sullivan

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The Jane Austen Handbook
by Margaret C. Sullivan

ISBN-13: 9781594741715
Hardcover: 224 pages
Publisher: Quirk Books
Released: May 1, 2007

Source: Bought through

Book Description, Modified from Back Cover:
Every young lady dreams of a life spent exchanging witty asides with a dashing Mr. Darcy, but how should you let him know your intentions? This charming guide provides step-by-step instructions for proper comportment in the early nineteenth century. You'll discover:

How to behave at your first ball.
How to ride sidesaddle.
How to decline an unwanted marriage proposal.
How to improve your estate.
How to throw a dinner party.

--and much more! It offers readers a glimpse into day-to-day life in Jane Austen's time and includes information on the English class system, currency, dress, and the nuances of graceful living.

My Review:
The Jane Austen Handbook described manners and aspects of daily life in Regency England, which is the time period of Jane Austen's novels. Some of it is information that you pick up just from reading her novels or watching the movies. However, there was a fair amount of other information that helps to fill out what life was like for the landed folk in England.

It included information like what the different servants do, correct behavior at a ball, how children were educated, how much someone's income was worth in modern terms, and so on. She included things that will help you to better understand the novels and things you simply might be curious about.

The author didn't go into great detail, but she covered a wide variety of subjects. The light tone makes it very readable and enjoyable. Overall, I'd recommend this book to fans of Jane Austen who want to know a little more about what life was like in the Regency Period.

If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.

Excerpt: Read an excerpt using Google Preview.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Victorian People in Life and Literature by Gillian Avery

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Victorian People in Life and Literature
by Gillian Avery

ISBN-13: 9780030666551
Hardcover: 255 pages
Publisher: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, Inc.
Released: 1970

Source: Borrowed from my local library.

Book Description:
Gillian Avery describes what life was like for the different social classes, what visitors thought of Victorian society, and rural and city/industrial life. She comments on some literature (novels and nonfiction sources) that accurately portray life and on some that didn't. Chapter headings: Victorian times, French and American Visitors, The Aristocracy, Society Life, Squire and Cottager, The Middle Classes, The Church, Cities and Industry, Life in Mean Streets, Poverty and Destitution, and Criminals. Illustrated from contemporary sources.

My Review:
Victorian People in Life and Literature explores life in England during Victorian times. It started with the rich and worked on down to the very poor, including information on workhouses and the prison system. It looked at farm life and at life in industrial cities. It quoted comments by foreign visitors, magazines of the time period, and bits from novels that accurately portray the times.

The illustrations were cartoons and line drawings taken from magazines from that time period. The book was very readable and interesting, and it came across as well-researched. Overall, I'd recommend this book to those interested in learning more about what the living conditions and social attitudes were like during this time period.

If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

The Brilliant History of Color in Art by Victoria Finlay

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The Brilliant History of Color
by Victoria Finlay

ISBN-13: 9781606064290
Hardcover: 128 pages
Publisher: J. Paul Getty Museum
Released: November 1, 2014

Source: ebook review copy from the publisher through

Book Description, Modified from Goodreads:
Victoria Finlay takes readers across the globe and over the centuries on an unforgettable tour through the brilliant history of color in art. Readers will revel in a treasure trove of fun-filled facts and anecdotes.

Were it not for Cleopatra, for instance, purple might not have become the royal color of the Western world. Without Napoleon, the black graphite pencil might never have found its way into the hands of C├ęzanne. Without mango-eating cows, the sunsets of Turner might have lost their shimmering glow. And were it not for the pigment cobalt blue, the halls of museums worldwide might still be filled with forged Vermeers.

The book is written for newcomers to the subject and aspiring young artists and is illustrated with 166 major works of art—most from the collections of the J. Paul Getty Museum.

My Review:
The Brilliant History of Color explores the origins of pigments and dyes that were popular for painting, glazes, wallpapers, and clothing. For each pigment or dye, she told the story of how it was found or who made it popular or of a famous person who loved to use it. She often gave dates of when the color was first known to be in use and if it was removed from use due to safety concerns. She also talked about things like the move from wood panels to linen canvas for painting.

The author started with some of the oldest pigments and dyes used, like manganese black, red ocher, Egyptian Blue, yellow ocher, Tyrian Purple, cinnabar, black ink, gold leaf, green earth, ultramarine, cochineal, logwood black, cobalt, lead white, indigo, Indian yellow, madder red, graphite, and mummy brown. She then discussed the modern (1850s until now) explosion in color possibilities with colors like mauve, Prussian blue, manganese violet, chrome yellow, and cadmium yellow.

The stories were entertaining, informative, and contained interesting trivia. The book is targeted at tween or teens, and it's more a story of ongoing developments in color and their uses than a who-what-when-where-why history focused on the pigments. Overall, I'd recommend this entertaining and informative book to those looking for a quick look at color history.

If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.

Excerpt: Read an excerpt using Google Preview.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Men of War by Alexander Rose

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Men of War:
The American Soldier in Combat at Bunker Hill, Gettysburg, and Iwo Jima
by Alexander Rose

ISBN-13: 9780553805185
Hardcover: 496 pages
Publisher: Random House
Released: June 2, 2015

Source: Review copy from the publisher through Amazon Vine.

Book Description, Modified from Amazon:
In the grand tradition of John Keegan’s enduring classic The Face of Battle comes a searing, unforgettable chronicle of war through the eyes of the American soldiers who fought in three of our most iconic battles: Bunker Hill, Gettysburg, and Iwo Jima. This is not a book about how great generals won their battles, nor is it a study in grand strategy. Men of War is instead a riveting, visceral look at ordinary soldiers under fire.

Drawing on an immense range of firsthand sources from the battlefield, Rose begins by re-creating the lost and alien world of eighteenth-century warfare at Bunker Hill, the bloodiest clash of the War of Independence—and reveals why the American militiamen were so lethally effective against the oncoming waves of British troops. Then, focusing on Gettysburg, Rose describes a typical Civil War infantry action, vividly explaining what Union and Confederate soldiers experienced before, during, and after combat. Finally, he shows how in 1945 the Marine Corps hurled itself with the greatest possible violence at the island of Iwo Jima, where nearly a third of all Marines killed in World War II would die.

To an unprecedented degree, Men of War brings home the reality of combat and, just as important, its aftermath in the form of the psychological and medical effects on veterans.

My Review:
"Men of War" details what battle was like for soldiers at Bunker Hill, Gettysburg, and Iwo Jima. The book came across as extensively researched, and the author quoted from many diaries and letters written by those who actually lived through these battles. He gave an overview of the battle then went into detail about what weapons the soldiers had, what damage those weapons did, what the battle experience was at various locations or in various situations (like for the defending infantry and for the attacking infantry), what the experience of the wounded was like (including the medical care of the time), and how they coped after the battle. Though I understand why the author included this level of detail, I could have lived with a "the mortar pulverized the body" description rather than the graphic, detailed blood-and-guts version we got. This was not a book I could read before going to sleep.

I felt that the author gave a balanced view of the battles and tried to present the attitudes they had toward the experience of battle at each time period rather than imposing our modern views on them. I freely grant that I haven't read every battle book out there, but this is the first time I've read a good, reasonable explanation for why the British acted as they did at Bunker Hill.

Overall, I found this book very worth the time of reading it. And it's dense, so it took some time. I'd recommend this informative book to anyone interested in what the experience of battle was like in these battles.

If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.

Monday, May 25, 2015

The River Cottage Curing and Smoking Handbook by Steven Lamb

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The River Cottage
Curing and Smoking Handbook
by Steven Lamb

ISBN-13: 9781607747871
Hardcover: 256 pages
Publisher: Ten Speed Press
Released: April 14, 2015

Source: Review copy from the publisher through Blogging for Books.

Book Description, Modified from Inside Cover:
This accessible, compact guide is bursting with essential information for sourcing, butchering, smoking, and curing the whole hog, cow, chicken, fish, and vegetable. Steven Lamb, a respected charcuterie authority, breaks down the traditional methods of curing and smoking to their most simple procedures, with abundant visual resources and 50 recipes.

This thorough, timely handbook begins with a detailed breakdown of tools (from sharp knives to sausage stuffers, for the gadget-loving cook) and an explanation of the preservation process, including a section on which cuts are best for various methods of curing and smoking. Lamb then dives into each method--from dry-curing to fermentation, brining to smoking--in a straightforward, comprehensive manner. And for each technique, there are many delicious recipes, including chorizo Scotch eggs, hot smoked mackerel, prosciutto, and dry-cured bacon.

My Review:
The River Cottage Curing and Smoking Handbook is a "how-to" book on curing and smoking your own meat. The author spent 133 pages on the how-to aspects and 113 pages on the recipes (which contained further how-to information), so this isn't just a cook book in disguise. I appreciated that he described ways to cure and smoke meat using equipment we may already have rather than sending us off to buy a lot of expensive tools. He did provide information on buying if you prefer to buy specialized, ready-to-use equipment.

The information was presented in a way that made me feel like I understood what would be going on during the process and that it was something I could do--and do safely. The author lives in England, but the book has been modified so that Americans can use it without having to convert everything. However, Americans will have to find a locally available brand of no-additives salt and so on rather than just use the exact same things that he does.

The book contained some step-by-step pictures with the recipes and in the section on butchering. There were also pictures of different types of cured and smoked meats, of the equipment, and to illustrate the curing and smoking methods. Many of the recipes focused on pork, but there were some for other meats, fish, and a few for vegetables and for cheese.

I have some minor experience with butchering and have seen some of these things done in person or on video. Overall, I'd say this was a good book for someone like me--someone familiar with these ideas but who needed the details before trying it for themselves.

If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.

Excerpt: Read an excerpt using Google Preview.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Bourbon Empire by Reid Mitenbuler

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Bourbon Empire:
The Past and Future of America's Whiskey
by Reid Mitenbuler

ISBN-13: 9780670016839
Hardcover: 320 pages
Publisher: Viking
Released: May 12, 2015

Source: Review copy from the publisher.

Book Description, Modified from Back Cover:
Unraveling the many myths and misconceptions surrounding America’s most iconic spirit, Bourbon Empire traces a history that spans frontier rebellion, Gilded Age corruption, and the magic of Madison Avenue. Whiskey has profoundly influenced America’s political, economic, and cultural destiny, just as those same factors have inspired the evolution and unique flavor of the whiskey itself.

Taking readers behind the curtain of an enchanting—and sometimes exasperating—industry, the work of writer Reid Mitenbuler crackles with attitude and commentary about taste, choice, and history. Few products better embody the United States, or American business, than bourbon.

A tale of innovation, success, downfall, and resurrection, Bourbon Empire is an exploration of the spirit in all its unique forms, creating an indelible portrait of both bourbon and the people who make it

My Review:
Bourbon Empire is a history of American whiskey with a focus on bourbon. The author covered why American farmers originally made whiskey, how it developed, how companies survived (or didn't) the Prohibition, and on through to the modern "craft whiskey" movement. We learn how whiskey is made and marketed, and what influences its taste for better and for worse. I've never tasted whiskey, but I felt like I had a good idea of what they taste like based on his descriptions. And if I ever try whiskey, I now have some idea of what might match my tastes at a price I can afford.

The book is written in a conversation tone with interesting stories. It held my attention from beginning to end. Overall, I'd recommend this book to people interested in whiskey for its taste (and history) and to those who enjoy learning history through the stories of specific products.

If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.

Excerpt: Read an excerpt using Google Preview.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

How to Get Dressed by Alison Freer

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How to Get Dressed:
A Costume Designer's Secrets for Making Your Clothes Look, Fit, and Feel Amazing
by Alison Freer

ISBN-13: 9781607747062
Paperback: 256 pages
Publisher: Ten Speed Press
Released: April 14, 2015

Source: Review copy from the publisher.

Book Description from Back Cover:
Costume designer Alison Freer’s styling kit is a magical bag of tricks, built to solve every single wardrobe malfunction on earth. TV and film productions wait for nothing, so her solutions have to work fast. In How to Get Dressed, Alison distills her secrets into a fun, comprehensive style guide focused on rethinking your wardrobe like a fashion expert and making what’s in your closet work for you. She provides real-world advice about everything style-related, including:

Making every garment you own fit better
Mastering closet organization
The undergarments you actually need
The scoop on tailors and which alterations are worth it
Shopping thrift and vintage like a rockstar

Instead of repeating boring style “rules,” Alison breaks the rules and gets real about everything from bras to how to deal with inevitable fashion disasters. Including helpful information such as how to skip ironing and the dry cleaners, remove every stain under the sun, and help clueless men get their acts together, How to Get Dressed has hundreds of insider tips from Alison’s arsenal of tools and expertise.

My Review:
How to Get Dressed is about finding your unique style and making your clothing fit well. I love that she genuinely thinks that your body type is great--and it doesn't matter which body type you have. Instead of telling women to mimic the current fashion or her favorite style, the author encourages you to discover your own, unique style. Instead of telling you to buy expensive, uncomfortable clothes and underclothes to match the currently fashionable "look," she encourages you to get clothes that fit well and a tailor who can do some cheap alterations so that your clothes look great on you and you feel great in them. I love her general attitude and mindset.

The author discusses "fashion rules" and when they can be broken. She gives tips on how to deal with clothing emergencies (safety pins and toupee tape to the rescue! Plus how to get out any stain), how to find clothes that fit, what clothes can be cheaply altered to fit well if you like the style, and how to find good vintage clothing. She discusses proper care and washing of clothing, including when do you really need to use a dry cleaner. She tells how you can organize your clothing (including underclothes, shoes, etc.) in a way so that you can easily see everything you own. There's only one chapter on how men's clothing should fit, and the rest is focused on women.

Basically, she covered a little bit of everything clothing-related in an upbeat way. If you don't feel comfortable shopping for or in your clothing and don't know much about clothing care, this may be the book to help you.

If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.

Excerpt: Read an excerpt using Google Preview.